A couple of friends agreed that the close result of 14 April was equivalent to starting again. “It’s as if we were just beginning” and “it’s like going back to 2002” each one commented to me in different moments. I think that this assessment, correct in my opinion, encloses one of the keys to treading firmly in such a shifting political moment.
The first thing I have to say is that I got it wrong. I was not only wrong in the electoral “forecast”: I imagined perhaps a slightly closer result than that of 7 October, with some abstention in Chavismo, slightly more in anti-Chavismo, and an advantage of around ten points, probably less. Indeed, I never seriously considered the hypothesis of obtaining more votes than the 8,191,132 achieved by the Comandante Chavez last year.
Yet furthermore, I committed another calculation error. It was clear to me that on 15 April we would wake up in another country, [and] that we would enter a new stage of the Bolivarian revolution, with previously unseen challenges (almost all derived from the physical absence of Chavez), with the strength that a new ratification of the Bolivarian path grants (of 14 April), with the need to update the inventory of problems we confront, re-entering strategic discussions, etc.
However, it turned out that the country already wasn’t the same as 6 March. The death of the Comandante had a profound impact on the ranks of Chavismo, whose reach we still haven’t been able to measure with precision. Very preliminarily, the hypothesis could be given that some hundreds of thousands judged that with the parting of Chavez it was necessary to say goodbye to the political project he led. Perhaps this allows us to begin to understand the narrow margin of victory of the result on 14 April.
What is clear is that the Bolivarian revolution did not die with the Comandante Chavez, and this must be insisted on, even though it seems obvious to many of us. It didn’t die to the extent that, even without the leadership of the political giant that was Chavez, we were capable of defeating the candidate of the oligarchy once again. It’s difficult for us today to evaluate the historical significance of this difficult contest from which we have successfully emerged, but perhaps in the future it will be held as an example of a revolutionary people who continue battling and triumphing despite the death of their leader.
In this sense, the assessment according to which we are starting again seems correct to me. We have arrived here with an accumulated history, of course; with great material and spiritual advances, and with a political culture in the process of consolidation. But we’ve lost our leader. So great was his weight, his importance, his strategic influence, that in his absence we were close to turning back the balance even more. It is our strength which has impeded this. Our consciousness, if the term is preferable.
If we’re starting again, it’s because we haven't lost. But above all: we’re not starting from zero.
Due to this, evaluating the result of 14 April as an expression of the lack of “consciousness” of the “traitor” people seems incorrect to me. Absolutely the opposite: 14 April is the clearest example of what a people is capable of doing when it becomes conscious of its own strength and of the imperative necessity of promoting new men and women to assume leadership roles.
Some are arguing the point of view of a “beneficiary” people who voted for their class enemies. Nevertheless, what needs to be combated, and this should be a fight without quarter, is this logic of the “beneficiary”. This image of people who vote for the revolution for the simple fact that they “benefit” from this or that Mission, which is in the head of many a “conscious” left-winger and party or office bureaucrat, contradicts the very idea of consciousness, and ends up reproducing the discursive logic that anti-Chavismo has constructed to refer to the Chavista people.
There is also much talk of management errors by the Bolivarian government, and there are those who venture that the electoral result represents something like a protest vote. I don’t agree. I know Chavista people, from the middle class, who didn’t vote not only because they were “sure” of Maduro’s victory, but also as a “punishment” for management failures. A terrible reading of the moment. On 14 April nothing like management was at stake, but rather the political legacy of the Comandante Chavez, and the continuity or not of the democratic and revolutionary path.
If it’s about management, the first thing that must be said is that the emphasis should always be put on politics. The Bolivarian revolution has never tried to administer the state better or worse, but rather defeat it, creating new institutions. This is because beyond the state in abstract there is a state in concrete, made in the image and likeness of the interests of the oligarchy. A coup at the helm! If it’s about management, let’s delve into the issue of the “inefficiency” of a comfortable and faint-hearted civil service, but let’s also talk about political efficiency, as Maneiro proposed, which refers to the capacity to direct the government by offering concrete solutions to the fundamental problems of the Venezuelan nation: and this is only done by carrying a revolution forward.
Let’s also talk about sabotage of the electricity system, of food shortages, phenomena around which many of us fell into the trap of exclusively blaming the government, but not the saboteur or the speculator - the criminals who play with the people’s food supply. A slogan in the first years of the revolution highlighted the accelerated process of the politicisation of the Venezuelan people, with its unbeatable clarity: “With hunger and unemployment, I’m sticking with Chavez”. We can say today that if we triumphed on 14 April, we achieved it because, as a friend wrote, “With speculation and sabotage, I’m sticking with Maduro”.
Let’s leave arrogance to one side, which does so much damage. None of us ever imagined the result of 14 April, which makes the “I told you so” attitude simply inexcusable. Enough already of self-praise and stating the obvious. No one predicted it. No one could. The country changed and we didn’t realise it. Let’s stop sharing out blame and using analysis that only helped to think about the country in which we lived before 5 March.
There are still those who think that, just as occurred after every election for years, these are days for “self-criticism”. What an over-used word. Let’s start by recognising that we got it wrong, that the answers to the previously unasked questions that are emerging are only going to be found by listening to the people.
Some reach the extreme of saying that 14 April was a victory with the taste of defeat. Go and say that to the people who didn’t only celebrate Sunday’s victory until they couldn’t any more, people satisfied that the oath of loyalty sworn to Comandante Chavez was honoured, but now are pressed to defend that victory with their lives. Because a conscious people doesn’t have time to chew over nonexistent defeats, and much less when fascism lies in wait.
In this country that changed, in this revolution that’s beginning again, the Chavista people are standing and have a new president. Yes, it’s true, Nicolas Maduro isn’t Chavez, but he never aspired to be. But now nothing is what it was! We’ve entered a new stage, and it’s up to our fellow Maduro to be at the front. So I’m sticking with Maduro.
Reinaldo Iturriza is a well known commentator on Venezuelan political affairs. After writing this article, he was appointed Minister for Communes by Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro.
Translated for Venezuelanalysis.com by Ewan Robertson